BARCELONA, Spain, Sep 9 – Barcelona coach Luis Enrique insisted Lionel Messi is fit enough to face Alaves on Saturday but said he may be protected with a run of seven games in 22 days to come for the Spanish champions.
Messi missed Argentina’s World Cup qualifier with Venezuela in midweek due to a groin problem, while the return of Neymar for the first time this season after winning Olympic gold with Brazil increases the temptation for the Barca boss to hand Messi an extended rest.
“Yes,” insisted Enrique when pressed on whether Messi was fit to play.
“During the week he was able do part of the training sessions with the team and another part on his own. We will focus on the needs of the team and make sure the player is in the best condition possible.”
Enrique is blessed with a series of options up front as Spanish international Paco Alcacer could make his debut after sealing a 30 million euro ($33 million) move from Valencia.
Arda Turan and Denis Suarez have also impressed in Neymar’s absence as the Catalans have made a 100 percent start to the season.
“There will be incredible players left in the stands or on the bench,” said Enrique.
“I speak with all my players. We know how things are and the things we have to take care of.”
Barca’s splurge in the transfer market in the off-season was their first for two years after serving a two-transfer-window ban on registering new players for irregularities in the signing of foreign players under 18.
Rivals Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have now been hit by a similar punishment, but Enrique hopes they do not weather the ban as well as his side did in winning a La Liga and Copa del Rey double last season.
“They will have to face up to it and we hope they don’t achieve the same results as us.”